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Communicating With Clients

When meeting with clients to present a new training solution, do you know how best to get your message across? Here are some guidelines for making the most of your time together. 

Define your presentation goals. Presumably, the goals of your presentation are to persuade the client to agree to the training solution’s design and delivery as recommended to improve the business and performance, and take ownership of any nontraining issues and recommendations. Do not forget these goals as you plan and deliver your presentation—each comment you make should draw the audience back to your goals. 

Know your audience. Do you know who will attend your presentation of data analysis and recommendations? Will it just be your client or will other key players be invited? Plan to address the interests of all concerned in the presentation. You should also plan to address the audience members’ desired level of detail. How much information will they want? Are they interested in a brief presentation that cuts to the chase? Or will they be more interested in your methodologies and research? Another factor to consider is who will make the presentation. Will the needs assessor make the presentation to the client and the stakeholders, or does the client need to be brought up to speed on the data and recommendations so he can make the presentation to the stakeholders, with you in the room to help answer questions? This will vary depending on the organization, client, and stakeholders, and your experience and role in the organization. 

Separate analysis from recommendations. You need to make it clear that data analysis and recommendations are two separate phases of the project. This should be reflected in the outline of the presentation, in handouts and PowerPoint slides, in communications with the client prior to the meeting, and in your own preparation for the presentation. Make sure to follow through by addressing data analysis and recommendations separately during your presentation. 

Tailor your presentation media and style. When choosing the media and presentation style for your recommendations and data analysis, consider the needs of you and your audience. This is where knowing the culture of the organization is helpful. Find out who needs to be in the room (or on the phone) for the presentation, and what their roles are within the organization. Who has the ultimate power of approving the project? Ask your client to help you put the presentation together, to make sure the style and content match what your key stakeholders are expecting. Your choice of media should be based on its formality and what media your audience tends to expect. Generally speaking, the more self-contained your media are, the more formal they are. For example, PowerPoint is a more formal medium than a flipchart. If your organization tends to depend on one kind of media (for example, PowerPoint), plan to use it at least for transition titles from subject to subject to increase your audience’s comfort level. How formal (or informal) your presentation should be depends on your organization’s culture and the client’s style. Choose a setting that fits—a boardroom for a formal presentation or a conference table in an office for an informal presentation. Tailor your speaking and presentation style to the level of formality expected. 

Handout materials. Consider the level of detail that should go into the handouts and materials you are giving to the audience members. Will they simply want a brief outline with bullets to fill in with notes? Or are they looking for text-heavy, highly detailed information? Will they expect a two-page executive summary, accompanied by a detailed report? Do they want to see graphs and other visual presentations of the information? 

Structure your time. Plan to use no more than half the allotted time to present your data analysis. The recommendation stage is the more important part of your presentation. You should allow sufficient time for your client to digest and discuss the analysis, and make the mental transition to recommendations (even perhaps identifying some of the recommendations in the discussion). You need to take into account the client’s readiness factor before she will be open to discussing and hearing recommendations. 


Emphasize information that the client can influence. Highlight key data points that are within the client’s power to do something about. You must acknowledge data that are unfortunate givens in the situation, but emphasizing them only makes the client feel powerless. 

Plan ahead. Give some thought to what you could cut from the presentation if it becomes necessary. This way, if the client is unexpectedly called away or walks in and says, “I know we scheduled an hour, but I’ll have to leave in 30 minutes,” you’ll be able to adjust.


Note: This article is excerpted from Needs Assessment Basics, 2nd edition, by Beth McGoldrick and Deborah D. Tobey.

© 2016 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Beth D. McGoldrick is an instructional designer for RiverSource Insurance, part of Ameriprise Financial, where she has won awards for training projects she designed and developed. She has more than 18 years of experience in training and development in the insurance industry and academia, including skills in analyzing, designing, developing, and measuring training. Beth has written articles and book chapters on various training topics, including needs analysis, instructional design for mobile learning, and evaluation. She mentors other instructional designers throughout the country. She has a master of science in organizational performance and workplace learning from Boise State University.Beth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband, John, son, and Shetland sheepdog. Beth may be reached at
About the Author
Deborah D. Tobey has 20 years of experience in the organization development and HRD field. She is currently the director of talent management for the Tennessee State Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and an adjunct senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University. Her areas of specialization include training needs assessment, design, facilitation, and evaluation; consulting skills and systems development; group processes and team building; competency modeling; and leadership development. In her private consulting practice, Deborah’s clients have included state and local governments, universities, nonprofit organizations, and Fortune 500 organizations in the manufacturing, finance, import, healthcare, and service sectors. She served in a full-time teaching role at Vanderbilt University, as well as in numerous appointments in adjunct roles, most notably at George Washington University and Vanderbilt University. She is the author or co-author of several ATD publications.Deborah has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in student personnel administration and counseling, both from Virginia Tech. Her doctorate in HRD is from Vanderbilt University. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and may be reached at
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